03 April 2014

Conservatism Limiting the Growth of Atheism??

I have my doubts about small government libertarian conservative politics if we want to grow atheism and free-thought in the United States. Recently, the questions surrounding atheism and conservative politics came up in connection to American Atheists President David Silverman attending this years CPAC Conference ("David Silverman: CPAC is crawling with closet atheists").

I’ve read Phil Zuckerman’s Society Without God and I’m currently reading David Niose’s Nonbeliever Nation. Both books make a similar point about growing atheism and secularism in a democracy. Secular atheist-friendly societies appear arise naturally in situations where there is a strong social safety net. Niose (page 197) makes the following observation about this correlation in his book:
“As modern developed countries learn to educate, provide health care, and ensure the general welfare of a diverse population, there is less reliance on religious community and charity. This partly explains why conservative religion so often abhors the modern social welfare state, where the public sector fills many roles once served by religion. It’s little wonder that secularity is most prominent in the social democracies of Europe, where the notion of the public sector serving many essential community needs is widely accepted.”
For a small-government conservative or libertarian conservative atheist, this may seem frustrating. After all, conservative politics may have the unintended side-effect of keeping religion alive and limiting the growth of atheism.

[Cross-posted from philosophicalpenguins.wordpress.com]

25 September 2012

Online Academic Theological Library

Here's a a free online resource courtesy of the World Council of Churches and globethics.net:
Global Digital Library on Theology and Ecumenism
Online theological resources for education and ecumenical dialogue

The Global Digital Library on Theology and Ecumenism (GlobeTheoLib) is a multi-lingual global digital library on theology and ecumenism that offers access to more than 500,000 texts, documents and other academic resources.

09 February 2012

Why E. J. Dionne Is Wrong on Contraceptives and Health Care Reform

The Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne is frequently cited as a progressive Catholic who condemns the recent Obama Administration announcement to require all employers (except exclusively religious bodies) to offer contraceptive insurance coverage as part of comprehensive preventive care. Mr. Dionne has claimed this health care decision infringes on religious liberty.

I've already written about why this is a medically and scientifically smart decision.

But Mr. Dionne's thinking is inconsistent. I think this excerpt from "Balancing Faith and Contraceptives" by Scott Lemieux shows where Mr. Dionne's logic is faulty:
Elsewhere, Dionne effectively refutes his own argument by noting, "While the Catholic Church formally opposes contraception, this teaching is widely ignored by the faithful." For the same reasons Kevin Drum cites at Mother Jones, if opposition to contraception represented a widely practiced tenet of the Roman Catholic faith, I believe that the government's interest in securing gender equity with a reasonable, generally applicable law should prevail, but I can understand seeing this as a difficult question. But forgoing contraception is not central to the faith of most practicing Roman Catholics. There’s not a genuine clash between religious freedom and pressing government interests here; rather, a small minority of religious leaders are seeking a special exemption that burdens women in the name of principles the overwhelming majority of their followers reject. The Obama administration's balancing of the interests here was perfectly appropriate and is better than either alternative Dionne proposes.
In other words, it's not a matter of "religious freedom" for the Catholic Bishops to try and claim an authority over non-Catholic employees and a secular government that they no longer exercise over their own flock.

"Special Rights" for Religions When They Operate Secular Businesses? No!!

First, I will say that religious institutions (e.g. churches, mosques, synagogues, other places of worship, seminaries, etc) do have exemptions from the laws that secular non-profits don't have.

Religious organizations can discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring and firing. In areas where sexual orientation non-discrimination laws are present, religious organizations are exempt from following these laws as well. They can discriminate on the basis of gender in their hiring. In other words, they get to do a lot of things that would be illegal and wrong if a secular business were to do them.

But this exemption from secular law should not apply when a religious body operates a secular business like a hospital or a school.

These secular businesses employ members of all faith traditions and even those who are non-believers. The same is true for their clientele - they may belong to other faiths or have no faith at all.

Basically, we're talking about hospitals and colleges that have religious decorations on the walls and statues in the lobby. These trappings should not give a hospital or school "special rights" to ignore laws that secular non-profit and secular for-profit corporations must follow.

07 February 2012

Contraceptive Health Care and "Religious Freedom" Arguments ... Or Facts Trump Theology

The bulk of this article uses research compiled for an article published by the Guttmacher Institute ("The Case for Insurance Coverage of Contraceptive Services And Supplies Without Cost-Sharing").

The 2010 health care reform law ("Affordable Care Act" or ACA) requires private health insurance plans to cover certain preventive health care services without any out-of-pocket to the consumer (e.g. no co-pays, no deductibles).

In November 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) convened an advisory panel to develop guidelines for women's preventive care (a requirement added to the law by Senator Mikulski of Maryland). The legislative intent of this law was to include contraceptive counseling, contraceptive services and supplies, and annual well-woman gynecological exams.

The evidence support contraceptive health care services as an essential component of both individual preventive care and public health care. The Guttmacher Institute's report provides an excellent summary of the importance of contraceptive coverage:
Contraceptive use helps women avoid unintended pregnancy and improve birthspacing, which in turn have substantial positive consequences for infants, women, families and society. Moreover, although cost can be a daunting barrier to effective contraceptive use on the part of individual women, the evidence strongly suggests that insurance coverage of contraceptive services and supplies without cost-sharing is a low-cost or even cost-saving means of helping women overcome this obstacle.
Here's a summary of the benefits provided by making contraceptive use easier for children, women, families, and society from the Guttmacher report:
  • In the United States, increased contraceptive use—particularly among unmarried women and among teenagers—has paralleled substantial declines in unintended pregnancy and abortion. Notably, increased contraceptive use has been found to be responsible for 77% of the sharp decline in pregnancy among 15–17-year-olds between 1995 and 2002, and for all the decline among 18–19-year-olds over that period.

  • According to U.S. and international studies, a causal link exists between the interpregnancy interval (the time between a birth and a subsequent pregnancy) and three major birth outcomes measures: low birth weight, preterm birth and small size for gestational age.

  • In addition, according to a 2008 literature review, numerous U.S. and European studies have found an association between pregnancy intention and delayed initiation of prenatal care.

  • Furthermore, compared with children born from intended pregnancies, those born from unintended pregnancies are less likely to be breastfed at all or for a long duration. Breastfeeding, in turn, has been linked with numerous positive outcomes throughout a child’s life.

  • Moreover, although evidence is limited, several studies from the United States, Europe and Japan suggest an association between unintended pregnancy and subsequent child abuse. There is also some evidence of an association between unintended pregnancy and maternal depression and anxiety.

  • Both married and cohabiting couples are more likely to separate after an unintended first birth than after an intended first birth.

  • Moreover, compared with those who have had a planned birth, women and men who have had an unplanned birth report less happiness and more conflict in their relationship, and women report having more symptoms of depression.

  • Several studies have examined the role that contraceptive use—particularly the use of oral contraceptives—has played in improvements in social and economic conditions for women. The advent of the pill allowed women greater freedom in career decisions, by allowing them to invest in higher education and a career with far less risk of an unplanned pregnancy.

  • Several studies have found that legal access to the pill led to increased pill use, fewer first births to high school– and college-aged women, increased age at first marriage, increased participation by women in the workforce and more children born to mothers who were married, college-educated and had pursued a professional career.

  • A 2010 analysis of the literature found that hormonal contraceptives can help address several menstrual disorders, including dysmenorrhea (severe menstrual pain) and menorrhagia (excessive menstrual bleeding). Hormonal contraceptives can also prevent menstrual migraines, treat pelvic pain due to endometriosis and treat bleeding due to uterine fibroids. Perhaps most notably, oral contraceptives have been shown to have long-term benefits in reducing a woman’s risk of developing endometrial and ovarian cancer, and short-term benefits in protecting against colorectal cancer.

  • Moreover, a 2000 study by the National Business Group on Health, a membership group for large employers to address their health policy concerns, estimated that it costs employers 15–17% more to not provide contraceptive coverage in their health plans than to provide such coverage, after accounting for both the direct medical costs of pregnancy and indirect costs such as employee absence and reduced productivity.
So ... we have facts supporting the case for contraceptive preventive care improves the situations of women, children, families, and society.

All I can find on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops web site about this law is that they object to it and that they are wrapping their objections in "religious privilege" that they want to extend to their non-profit organizations that provide secular services (e.g. education, health care, etc). If there are any factual objections to providing contraceptive care, it would be in their interests to voice them.

All that tells me is that these clergy leaders value their theology more than they value the well-being of children, women, families, and society (I'm assuming that these leaders are educated men who have ready access to the same facts that I have presented here).

They are free to promote this unhealthy idolatry of theology in their churches.

But this freedom doesn't extend to the secular world where their non-profit organizations employ non-Catholics who are engaged in non-religious work (health care, education, social services, etc). Theology doesn't exempt religiously-affiliated non-profits from religiously neutral laws that promote the common good.

We are lucky that these attitudes against contraceptives are not shared by a majority of Catholic laity.

Most Catholic laypersons support contraceptive use and a majority does support providing contraceptives as part of the ACA:
A new poll is out from Public Policy Polling, conducted on behalf of Planned Parenthood, on voter attitudes toward the new Obama administration requirement that employers who provide health insurance must also cover, co-pay-free, prescription birth control.

The PPP poll finds that "a 53 percent majority of Catholic voters, who were oversampled as part of this poll, favor the benefit, including fully 62 percent of Catholics who identify themselves as independents."

The poll also found 57% of all voters (and a 53% majority of Catholics) "think that women employed by Catholic hospitals and universities should have the same rights to contraceptive coverage as other women."

04 October 2011

Liberal Religious "Strawman" Arguments Directed Against "New Atheists"

On 2 October 2011, a subscriber to the the Unitarian Universalist Theology email discussion list said the following:
"But in fact, it seems to me that BOTH the Christian Fundamentalists and the Secular Atheists have decided to exclude all the other points of view from the debate. Each of them allows the other to participate so that they can each have a strawman."
To borrow the Wikipedia definition, a strawman is " ... an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position."

To be fair to the various vocal atheist and freethinkers out there, most of them are aware of liberal religious voices out there. And (to paraphrase Greta Christina and others) atheists would not be speaking out against religion very much if the predominant type of religion was Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, Reform Jewish, Quaker, etc (less harmful and more likely to do good in the world).

When atheist writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens ignore liberal religion, it's not because liberal religion doesn't exist.

It's because liberal religions are statistically insignificant and are not representative of religion as it's commonly practiced in the world.

Here are some Gallup polling et al. findings that support this view that literalism and fundamentalism are widespread in North America and not some sort of "strawman" invented by the so-called "new atheists":

  • 92% of Americans believe in God

  • 81% of Americans believe in Heaven

  • 70% of Americans believe in Hell

  • 78% of Americans believe in angels

  • 70% of Americans believe in the Devil

  • 40% of Americans believe in creationism

  • 38% of American believe in evolution with God guiding the process that created humans

  • 16% of American believe in evolution as an unguided and undirected process
This unguided and undirected aspect of evolution is the dominant view in biology and is supported by observation and experiment.

Go Google the "Luria-Delbrück experiment" to read more about the finding that mutation -- the source of variation for natural selection -- is randomly generated and undirected without any consideration for the long-term future of the organism's well-being.

If 40% or more of the North American religious expression were Unitarian Universalist or United Church of Christ, then I think you could make a good case for Dawkins et al. pushing a "strawman" fallacy.

However, 78% of North Americans rejects evolution as it is understood by the scientific community on religious grounds. Perhaps the so-called "new atheists" have a legitimate complaint about religion as it's commonly practiced.

I would suggest that this new atheist "strawman" allegation is itself a "strawman" argument directed towards atheism.

Sources:
[Cross-posted to Philosophical Penguins]